One Line Found

Write a poem connecting three found lines:

1. one line found in a fictional short story
2. one line found in a quote in a news story
3. describe something broken, without using the word for that thing. Using words from the description, create one line found as the last line of your poem.

12 line poem. 3 quatrains.

Challenge: Trade each of the first two found lines with a classmate.
Super Challenge: Trade all three lines with another student.

The Library of Babel

Suppose there exists a digital library with a lot of books (10^2000000 books – 10 followed by two million zeros). Each book contains four hundred ten pages; each page, forty lines; each line, approximately eighty black letters. Suppose such a library could indeed contain every possible combination of letters in a 410 page book. That indeed would be a lot of books.

Well, I think The Library of Babel is such a library.


For your name
For a date in the future
For a date in the past
For a passage from your favorite book, or something you yourself have written. Search for alternate scenes and endings.
If you have writer’s block, search for the last word or sentence fragment you’ve written, and find out how it ends.

Those who tire of being constantly thwarted looking for meaning among the library’s babble can use reading its jumbled texts as a form of meditation. Eventually your mind learns no longer to search for or expect significance.


Breaking the Sentence

Write a poem that is simply a list of things.

Here is an example:

"Letter to Milwaukee" by Roger Mitchell
The empty stapler, the unsharpened pencil, 
The dry rubberstamp of a dead executive, 
Instructions for the care of lenses, 
The closed pipe case, recipes for soap,  
Unanswered letters from Puerto Rico, 
Back issues still in plain brown wrappers,  
Bookmarks stuck into slanted texts 
Like flags in the sides of whales 
Hunted by other men in another time. 

Ode to the Yard Sale

An Emotional Landscape

1. Listen carefully to a poem as it is read aloud.

Two excellent poems are “A Blessing” by James Wright and “To Go to Lvov” by Adam Zagajewski.

2. Afterward, without looking at the poem, write down all the evocative words you remember, or any words that the poem triggers.

3. Imagine a journey you might take in a real (concrete) landscape, one that is familiar to you. Use the words you have chosen to guide your way into a poem in which you take that journey, literally or figuratively. Let the borrowed language prose ways to break through your familiarity with the landscape, by suggesting details, a mood, the bare bones of a narrative, a kind of diction, or maybe even something specific as the name of the place, or words spoken there.

By adopting the mood and tone the poem evokes through its particular language, you enter an emotional landscape which is crucial in the recovery of memory. That sensibility then determines the location of your poem. The poem might focus on one specific incident or aspect of the journey, it might follow the complete route, or it might end in a place that no longer exists.

After you have the first draft of the poem, you might find it useful to “copy” the poem you heard. Taking the poem line by line, you might model your own poem after the original by progressing similarly from subject to subject, observation, metaphor, tone, etc.

Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms

Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Live fairy-gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul may be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look which she turned when he rose!

Thomas Moore

A Journey to Nowhere

Write a poem in which you undertake a journey to an unknown destination.

The poem does not necessarily have to have a formal “plot,” but does have to leave you at the end of the journey, in a wholly unexpected place: either in the midst of a strange landscape (mental and/or physical) or in the throes of a threatening or exciting discovery (self, other, or both).

Begin the poem with a predicament: the speaker of the poem ( the poet, a fictional narrator, or an actual person re-imagined) is lost, or hunting for something (someone), or is being propelled into a quest against her will, or is on a supposedly ordinary journey that turns weird.

Make the poem long enough (25+ lines) to make it hard for you to predict its outcome. Make each line a consistent length or meter. Some regularity of form helps give the sense that the poem is taking the poet on the journey; it works against a too-rational and too-orderly plotting by setting up a crafty, quasi-deliberate momentum.

This journey-poem is useful for its challenge to your customary anxiety for closure, an anxiety that may prohibit the imagination. As you write your way into a world created as you go along, you have the privilege of using “useless” material: images that exist for their own quirky beauty, flotsam and jetsam from actual journeys, revived memories, “superstitious trash” from old legends and stories, dream images and other nonrational arcana.

Enact the journey on several levels so that what you see resonates with what you cannot explain.

Getting at Metaphor

This exercise comes in three parts:

1. Describe an object or scene that particularly interests you without making any comparisons of one thing to another. Rewrite it, if necessary, until it is as free of comparisons as possible.

2. Take the same object or scene and use it to describe one of your parents. In other words indulge yourself in comparisons.

3. Write a poem which, though it is a description of the object or scene, is really about your parent.

It may be useful to publish and share the first part before moving on. Get feedback from your peers to be certain your initial description does no lapse into comparison.

This exercise helps teach the necessity of indirection. The quickest way from point A to B (from a person to a clarified feeling, say) detours through metaphor. Not to mention through several drafts in the rewriting.

by Julio Noboa Polanco

Let them be as flowers,
always watered, fed, guarded, admired,
but harnessed to a pot of dirt.

I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed,
clinging on cliffs, like an eagle
wind-wavering above high, jagged rocks.

To have broken through the surface of stone,
to live, to feel exposed to the madness
of the vast, eternal sky.
To be swayed by the breezes of an ancient sea,
carrying my soul, my seed,
beyond the mountains of time or into the abyss of the bizarre.

I'd rather be unseen, and if
then shunned by everyone,
than to be a pleasant-smelling flower,
growing in clusters in the fertile valley,
where they're praised, handled, and plucked
by greedy, human hands.

I'd rather smell of musty, green stench
than of sweet, fragrant lilac.
If I could stand alone, strong and free,
I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed.

One’s Self, En-Masse

One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse. – Walt Whitman

With the above in mind, write a description of two or three paragraphs, no longer than 220 words, in which you describe one particular member or element of a set:

  • one sparrow in a flock of sparrows
  • one baby in a nursery of babies
  • one marble in a bag of marbles
  • one scream in a stadium of screams
  • one somersault in a series of somersaults
  • one baby goat in a stock trailer of baby goats

The challenge is to perceive the qualities of the group, and to distinguish what makes an individual a member of that group both a part of it and apart from it. Avoid the above examples; instead use sets (groups) that you can observe directly, or observe them from your imagination. Try for clarity and simplicity in your language.

At first, this is a prose exercise – write a couple of descriptive paragraphs. To make a poem, pull lines/phrases from the paragraphs and arrange as you’ve done in other exercises.

Five Easy Pieces

As in the movie this title refers to, we discover things visually in fragmentary form, and what we think we know or see and what someone else knows or sees and what we communicate between those two positions is scant. This exercise attempts to tell a whole story in a quick scene.

It is to be written in five sentences*, and can be done in a class.

There are two preparation steps.

The first step is to remember a person you know well, or to invent a person.

The second step is to imagine a place where you find the person.

Then you are ready for the five pieces.

  1. Describe the person’s hands.
  2. Describe something s/he is doing with the hands.
  3. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place.
  4. Mention what you would want to ask this person in the context of 2 and 3, above.
  5. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggest s/he only gets part of what you asked.

* The more experienced could dedicate an entire stanza or section to each piece but a single sentence or line per piece is recommended for beginners.

by M. Andrew Patterson

His hands were smooth
Never having labored over a hot stove in July
The grease burning and searing the skin
The charcoal embedding under your nails.

His pencil twitched a rapid staccato
As his hand moved it smoothly over the page
A ballerina in graphite
Dancing through Elysian fields
A swan over stormy seas.

"What do you think?" I ask it. I dread it
A pause -- A dip
The dancing done.

"Tuesday would be a good time, you think?"